FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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November 30, 2012 4:41 PM

From WTVC NewsChannel9:

The Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority over a Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to the utility's plan to spend nearly $1 billion to reduce emissions at its coal-fired plant in Gallatin.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., earlier this month also asks for an injunction to extend a public comment period on the draft environmental assessment of a plan to upgrade the plant to meet new clean air federal standards.

November 30, 2012 4:34 PM

State FOIA Friday News A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week:

Gov. Rick Scott's 'Sunburst' email project frustrates advocates of open government

TALLAHASSEE — Bad news and controversy are routine in the vast state government under Florida Gov. Rick Scott's control. But don't look for clues in Project Sunburst, Scott's program for email transparency. That's because Scott doesn't use email as a primary form of communication, and neither does his top aide, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth. ... "It's been a disappointment, to say the least," said Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation, who had high hopes because the search for email from Scott's office had been costly and time-consuming.

Visit Tampa Bay Times for the rest.

Bob Hoemeke dies: media lawyer who fought for free speech and open government

When late-night TV comedians ridicule politicians, they can thank Bob Hoemeke for having the freedom to tell their jokes without being hauled into court. Mr. Hoemeke, who died this week at age 77, was a lawyer specializing in open government and the First Amendment. His case establishing that jokes and ridicule aren’t libelous has remained the legal standard nationwide for nearly half a century.

Visit Stltoday.com for the rest.

Justices hear arguments over Ark. FOI law ruling

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas Supreme Court justice signaled Thursday that the court may overturn a judge's ruling that declared part of the state open records act unconstitutional during a hearing in which lawyers wrangled over the legal definition of a meeting. Attorneys focused primarily on what constitutes a public meeting as justices heard oral arguments over a Sebastian County judge's ruling declaring part of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act vague. The judge last year rejected a claim that Fort Smith's former city administrator violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by talking privately with members of the board of directors.

Visit SFGate.com for the rest.

Sick-time group presses Orange County (Fl.) leaders for phone records

The group behind a sick-time ballot referendum pressed Orange County leaders in court Thursday to turn over their cellphones to retrieve text messages they deleted from lobbyists and others opposed to the measure. Citizens for a Greater Orange County, which sued the county last month, wants commissioners' personal and public phones secured so that any public records still contained on them are not lost.

Visit Orlando Sentinel for the rest.

TX: Government contractors resist public records law with lawsuits

AUSTIN — People who work for your government and deal with your government would rather you didn’t know so much about your government. And they would like the law to reflect that view. Don’t take our word for it. As many as half of the lawsuits filed with the Attorney General’s office come from government contractors who want to skirt the Texas Public Information Act, Amanda Crawford, the assistant attorney general for open records, told a Senate Committee on Open Government hearing Monday, the Associated Press reports.

Visit Watchdog News for the rest.

Lawmakers to review Texas Public Information Act

Lawmakers are considering possible changes to the Texas Public Information Act. They are looking at how to reduce frivolous requests and whether the act hurts government contractors. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst wants the Senate Open Government Committee to examine possible changes when the legislature meets next year.

Visit myFoxlubbock.com for the rest.

Knox County (Ill.) gets failing grade on transparency and access to public records

GALESBURG — Knox County is one of a slew of Western Illinois governments that have received poor marks in online transparency, receiving a failing grade from a study that looked at how much public data is available on county websites. It is an issue, county officials say, that is already being addressed and will be remedied soon. Accord to a Illinois Policy Institute study, Knox County’s website received a rating of 20 out of a maximum 100, and fared particularly worse in sharing public records and budgets. That score is on par with many other western Illinois counties, of which only one — Macoupin — received a passing grade.

Visit The Register-Mail for the rest.

November 28, 2012 5:34 PM

From The Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama signed legislation Tuesday that affords greater protection to federal employees who expose fraud, waste and abuse in government operations.

Capping a 13-year effort by supporters of whistle-blower rights, the new law closes loopholes created by court rulings, which removed protections for federal whistle-blowers. One loophole specified that whistle-blowers were only protected when they were the first to report misconduct.

[...]

The whistle-blower law makes it easier to punish supervisors who try to retaliate against the government workers.

For more relevant stories, see Advocates laud President Obama’s signing of federal whistleblower reforms from Make It Safe Campaign & Coalition:

President Obama signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA, S. 743) into law today, marking the finale of a more than decade-long campaign by the Make It Safe Coalition to restore and modernize federal whistleblower protections. The President’s unwavering support of the WPEA, paired with Congress’ sweeping endorsement by unanimous consent, demonstrates the strong mandate for a new day of accountability in the federal government. These reforms expand protections for federal employees who disclose wrongdoing and protect the public trust.

Whistleblower advocates from organizations with diverse interests and ideologies who together waged a historic campaign for this landmark government accountability reform are enthusiastic about this victory for whistleblowers and taxpayers: ...

November 28, 2012 5:00 PM

From The Freedom Foundation:

OLYMPIA (Nov 28, 2012) - The Freedom Foundation today released Best Practices for Public Agency Compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act, a go-to source of information on a number of issues related to Washington State’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

The state does not have an official set of model rules for the OPMA. Questions that are not directly addressed in the OPMA are sent to Tim Ford, the Open Government Ombudsman at the Attorney General’s office.

The publication has already received praise for its clarification of the law and addressing a number of frequently asked questions pertaining to the OPMA. One of the first to comment was Attorney General Rob McKenna.

“I commend the Freedom Foundation for its efforts in addressing common questions about the Open Public Meetings Act,” he said, “and for providing guidance on a sometimes complicated law governing public officials. This document provides good basic information and suggests best practices for new public officials subject to the OPMA.”

Click here to download the Best Practices for Public Agency Compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act (PDF/575KB)

The Freedom Foundation is a member of NFOIC. The publication was made possible by a grant from NFOIC. -- eds

November 28, 2012 2:41 PM

From ACLU:

Can using privacy-enhancing tools (such as Tor or a Virtual Private Network) actually expose you to warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency? This week, the ACLU sent off four FOIA requests to federal agencies in order to try and answer this question.
 
To understand why we think that may be the case, we have to go back to the passage of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) in 2008. That act was not a high-point for civil liberties or the rule of law. It included a provision giving immunity to the telecom companies that violated the law by assisting the NSA with its warrantless wiretapping program. Although the get-out-of-jail-free card given to the phone companies is the most well-known aspect to the FAA, there is much more to the law, and many other things that give privacy advocates reason to worry.
 
Under the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the government was required to provide specific, targeted requests aimed at foreign powers or their agents before lawful surveillance was permissible. But the FAA created an additional, broader surveillance system, enabling the government to conduct surveillance without particularized suspicion where a “significant purpose” is to obtain “foreign intelligence” and where the surveillance is targeted against persons "reasonably believed to be located outside the United States."

 

November 27, 2012 2:32 PM

From The Texas Tribune:

Whether Texas' open records law should address “frivolous and overly burdensome” public information requests was among the topics discussed Monday at a state Senate panel hearing.

During invited and public testimony Monday, the Senate Committee on Open Government also heard testimony on the Texas Public Information Act’s implications for private companies that fulfill state contracts, whether the law applies to communication such as text messages, the security of public records and policies for retaining electronic records.

November 27, 2012 2:25 PM

From MyCentralJersey.com:

MANVILLE (Nov 26, 2012) — What are they trying to hide?

That’s a question libertarian activist John Paff says he is trying to get answered through a lawsuit he filed last week in state Superior Court.

The lawsuit accuses the Manville Police Department of violating the state Open Public Records Act by denying Paff access to police reports related to the August arrests of two men on charges of drinking alcohol in public. Police said the reports are exempt from disclosure because they are “criminal investigatory records.”

November 27, 2012 2:20 PM

From MySanAntonio.com:

AUSTIN (Nov 26, 2012) — The state's 40-year-old law designed to keep government in the open needs a few tweaks to catch up with modern technology, open government advocates told a Texas Senate committee Monday.

The law should clarify, for example, that emails and text messages that public officials send from private accounts must be open for public review if the content is in any way related to public business.

[...]

Houston attorney Joseph Larsen, a member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas board, suggested lawmakers adopt legislation similar to an Austin city ordinance requiring employees to forward emails to the governmental body's server when they use private accounts for communicating messages involving public business.

Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas is a member of NFOIC.--eds.

November 27, 2012 2:13 PM

From Courthouse News Service:

DETROIT (Nov 27, 2012) - Wayne State University is exempt from answering a FOIA request about its use of dogs in medical research, because the last time it did "animal rights extremists" threatened its researchers with "torture and death," the university claims in court.

The university sued the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in Wayne County Court.

Wayne State claims it released records in 2011 to the Physicians Committee, which sought information on the university's use of dogs in cardiovascular research.

November 27, 2012 2:04 PM

From The Republic:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Court of Appeals is again taking up a public records case involving a private prison company and a magazine that advocates for inmate rights.

Attorneys for Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America and the magazine Prison Legal News are to make arguments to the court Tuesday. The case began after editor Alex Friedmann in 2007 sought records from the prison operator regarding legal settlements, judgments and complaints against the company.

November 27, 2012 1:56 PM

From Tulsa World:

A Yukon couple took the rare path of filing an open records lawsuit after their school district refused to turn over records involving an investigation into a school agricultural program.

Joey Senat, associate professor of journalism at Oklahoma State University and an expert in media law, noted that Gov. Mary Fallin's office has cited "executive privilege" in refusing several recent records requests. He said the state's constitution and laws do not specify such an exemption for the governor.

Senat said that as a candidate, Fallin signed an open government pledge when she spoke at a conference sponsored by Freedom of Information Oklahoma Inc., a statewide nonprofit group that advocates for openness in government.

Freedom of Information Oklahoma, Inc. is a member of NFOIC.--eds.

November 27, 2012 1:51 PM

From The Citizen:

PORT BYRON (Nov 27, 2012) - The Port Byron Teachers Association brought the state's Open Meetings Law and Freedom of Information Law guru to Port Byron High School on Monday with the goal of educating the public about the laws.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the Department of State's Committee on Open Government, visited Port Byron and drew an audience of more than 30 people from the Port Byron and other communities.

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